It’s the Big One. 15 miles from Wall to Once Brewed, high in the hills and our half way point.
It had rained overnight and as we got up, it was still teeming, but the skies were clearing. By the time we had breakfast and got ready, the sun was coming out behind the clouds. Mist laid in the valley, the hills poking above – wet, vibrant green with tinges of autumn browns in the trees. It was a very beautiful scene. It made you feel good.
We were alarmed about how much heavy traffic lurched past our accommodation. Our room overlooked the main road and it was constant rumble of lorries, coaches and cars. It had been a funny night – we had developed a tendency to go to bed by 9 – 9.30 – so the other guests seemed quite noisy when they retired an hour or so later. Lots of banging doors and noisy water pipes and cisterns. Also there was a lot of light pollution from various sources which didn’t help. Another weird night.
We walked back to Chesters and continued up a long slow hill by the road. It gradually got steeper, but mercifully not too long. At the top on the edge of the village of Walwick, we turned off and followed a back road. We ended up doing a big loop through fields and ended back near the main road again. The Hadrians Wall Path (also known as the National Trail) goes through private land and not all landowners were happy about walker’s trampling across their fields. So we get these little diversions – there’s not many. Sometimes its to avoid a dangerous section of road or because it just wasn’t feasible.
The scenery was getting better with long distance views. We were again walking through fields and pastures, cows watching us with bored interest. We overtook one foreign couple sauntering along and then caught up with a couple probably in their sixties. We stopped to take photos and swap stories and they said they were finishing in Once Brewed too. We bade them farewell and continued. The Wall was making more of a physical appearance – a line of stone here and there. We stopped and read the information boards as we gradually gained height. We stopped for snacks where the view was 360 degrees with moorland and pine woodlands in the distance. We could of been in the middle of nowhere, but the roar of nearby traffic reminded us that civilisation was not far away. The older hikers caught up with us again here. We packed up and followed them to the site of a Roman temple, sunk into the moorland. There was a car park here, a lonely patch of black tar, with a van surrounded by a couple of chairs and tables. The enterprising van owner had turned his vehicle into a mobile coffee shop. Our fellow walkers succumbed to the smell of coffee and that was the last we saw of them. We never did know if they reached Once Brewed.
The sun was high in the sky with big fluffy clouds. By now we were walking by the Wall almost constantly, it sneaking away into the distance, over the undulating hills. It was probably half the height it was, but still strong. It was a good six foot wide too. We came across the foundations of mile castles, gatehouses and forts that were spaced evenly across the whole length of Hadrian’s Wall and the information boards gave artists impressions of what they would of looked like. We wondered if the soldiers were sent here as a form of punishment or did they line up, hoping to be chosen to be posted in a very exposed and chilly corner of Northern Europe. What was life like living here? You could see for miles so you had no excuse if a Barbarian managed to sneak up. It kept us occupied, discussing what it was like being a Roman all those years ago.
Eventually we parted company with the main road, we just veered away from each other and we headed higher along grassy pathways. With the sun shining, the scenery was stunning. You could see for miles. The muffled roar of traffic travelled on the prevailing wind and electricity pylons matched relentlessly in the distant valley. You couldn’t quite escape the 21st century.
Here and there, we came across some small holding or farm, hidden in a copse of trees for shelter from the worst of the weather. A brief change of scenery, strolling through a little woodland before being popped back out into the big country. To our right, it was a vast expanse of nothingness, the odd woodland and heathland.
We came across Housesteads, another excavated Roman fort, with tourists wandering around the ruins. We were too weary to give it justice and having already seen Chesters, we gave it a miss. However, it is here where you’ve got the only chance to walk on top of the Wall itself – so we did.
We dropped down by a farm where the cows were mooing frantically – apparently they were being separated from their calves. It was a dreadful noise. It was, as we were crossing a wide track, that we realised the biggest, blackest, meanest looking bull was lumbering with surprising speed towards us. Ahead of him, was a man, woman and a small dog walking briskly towards the same gate as us, with an air of restrained panic. They were doing a circular walk when they met him and quickly turned tail. Bringing up the rear, I whispered with quiet desperation for everyone to get a move on as he was bearing down on us. Luckily, the sound of thundering hooves failed to materialise, as he continued his steady plod into the next field to check out the noise and his faithful harem of ladies. Relieved, we all continued our respective walks.
From here, the wall could be seen snaking in the distance, up and down of the contours of the hills. We started to climb up, summit, walk a little distance and then drop down into a gully and immediately back up, quite steeply that steps had been placed into the side. They needed care, these steps – sometimes just soil, other times slate and stone. They weren’t particularly high, these hills but you had to concentrate. Up and down, I lost count. We thought of the poor men who had to construct the Wall here, where the land plunged downwards into a U bend and climbed out again. An entirely different construction was required here and they were numerous. An amazing feat.
We were now on top of a high crag where people abseiled off. It was a natural barrier that the Romans took advantage of. It was just a sheer drop. We dropped down to Sycamore Gap, where a solitary sycamore tree sits in the wall. It was featured in the film “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves” where Kevin Costner kisses Maid Marian. On pictures it looked isolated as lonely, but in reality it was surrounded by tourists. It was our bad luck as we approached this area, a big group of German teenagers had got ahead of us and were leaping around and bounding down the steps, unnerving me. I’m not particularly happy on these type of steps, especially after 15 miles. So the kids beat us to the sycamore tree and started climbing it. Any special moment instantly evaporated. We stopped briefly, but these kids would be a while so we headed up yet another stone staircase, feeling disappointed and denied. Halfway up, they overtook us again, jabbering away loudly. I was tensing up with fear (I slipped on a narrow path years ago and have an irrational fear of falling – I’m making it sound like climbing Everest, but this section relatively simple and easy) and just wanted to get to the top. Thankfully, it was a short, sharp ascent and once there, we put a wiggle on and left the Germans behind. It was getting busy with tourists who had just parked their cars nearby, wandered a mile or two so they could claim they had walked Hadrian’s Wall. Another large school party of primary school kids stood, spread across the path. Our patience was being tested here. None of the adults shooed them to one side. Grrrr.
Our next hotel hoved into view, a seemingly distant speck. It was a welcomed sight. We dropped onto the little lane that lead to our destination and our little black mood lifted. One final insult was that we caught up with a boisterous mad professor type, full of energy, telling us about a nearby cottage being the Queen Mother’s and offering inane information that we didn’t really want to hear. We feared he was heading to the Twice Brewed Inn with us, but thankfully bounded into a waiting car and disappeared from our lives. We sighed with relief and quietly thanked God.
We staggered across the Twice Brewed Inn’s lawn and to reception. We checked in and were taken to the smallest room I’ve ever encountered. I think if you swung a cat, it would of hit its head on all four walls. We couldn’t open our cases unless they were on the bed. We needed to close them up and store them away instead of leaving them out, and even then we had to pick our way around the room.
But we didn’t care at that point. Forgoing showers, we retired straight to the bar and got a celebratory beer and gin and tonic. We chinked glasses and toasted ourselves on our achievement. Our feet were beyond soreness, our knees creaked, but we were gloriously happy. We even forgave the Germans and the casual day trippers for blighting the last mile.
Once we had recovered, we tried to get a bigger room to no avail. The alternative was slightly bigger. We stayed put. We showered, rested before heading down to the bar again for food. We was going to eat in the restaurant, but the bar was livelier and had more atmosphere, so we ate there. Afterwards we played dominoes (though quite a bit of it was missing, so the game didn’t last long) and scrabble. We watched people come and go and a couple with a large adorable dog who didn’t get a moments peace as everybody wanted to pat the hound.
We went to our tiny bedroom (the bathroom had more room). We had completed Day Four, we were halfway through our walk and we still had more adventures to come. We fell into a deep untroubled sleep, very happy indeed.